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Can This Quartz Movement Save the American Watch Industry?

Can This Quartz Movement Save the American Watch Industry? Featured Articles

The lights dim and the wall opposite a digital projector springs to life with a slickly produced video edit, replete with thumping techno music, squeaky-clean assembly lines, and panning shots of young, tattooed watchmakers sitting elbow-height at brightly lit workbenches. The imagery cross-dissolves to the surrounding geography, where there’s a fountain shooting a tall stream of water skyward from a local downtown lake, evoking the iconic Jet d’Eau on Lake Geneva. But we couldn’t be further from Europe’s spiritual center of the watchmaking world — we’re a few clicks removed from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, in what’s nearly the middle of the Arizona desert. However, what’s happening here could also very well be the real deal, a long-awaited spark touted to re-kindle the collective American watch renaissance.

At the center of it all is the new “Ameriquartz” movement, assembled by Fine Timepiece Solutions in a brand new watchmaking facility set inside the 69,000 square-foot East Valley Institute of Technology Fountain Hills campus — an operation projected to add as many as 300 jobs to the local economy as the facility grows. The goal here is not just to make it easier for North American watch brands to compete in a global market, but to produce a competitive new movement product that could one day potentially disrupt the Swiss and Asian stranglehold on the market and establish a proud new home for the American watchmaker.

Can This Quartz Movement Save the American Watch Industry? Featured Articles

Much has already been written about the demise of large-scale manufacturing in the American watch industry, but if you look closely enough, there’s a clear groundswell of activity around smaller U.S.-based brands looking to challenge the industry’s currently held norms in the not-so-distant future. Granted, regardless of choice, many of these brands are still forced to rely on European or Asian movements, fabrication, or assembly, but the tug-of-war to return some of the outsourcing that began in the 1930s is starting to be felt on the other end of the rope. And what we witnessed back in early February might not yet be on a scale large enough to be considered a shot across ETA or Ronda’s bow, but it is certainly a small spark that could very well catch fire if enough American watch companies sign on.

“You can only do so much with all the different ingredient sourcing from around the world,” says Abingdon Mullin, founder of Abingdon Watches based in Las Vegas. “With the manufacture of quartz movements now happening one time zone away, nothing gets lost in translation or opposite business hours,” she continues. The convenience for U.S.-based watch manufacturers is certainly a big draw for brands like Abingdon, which currently relies on turnkey movement solutions on the other side of the world, where long lead times, confusing laws, taxes, and multiple languages all compound the challenge of trying to innovate and bring new products to market.

Can This Quartz Movement Save the American Watch Industry? Featured Articles

The Titan Edge, the world’s thinnest ceramic watch

However, it’s no secret that movement manufacturing doesn’t come quickly or inexpensively, so to get things off the ground, the brunt of the FTS facility intellectual capital comes from its technology partner, Titan Co. If the name doesn’t immediately sound familiar, it probably should: Titan is India’s largest watchmaker (producing somewhere between 15 and 17 million watches a year), and a key player in the Tata Group, a massive Indian brand conglomerate with $100 billion in annual revenue. Brands like Jaguar, Land Rover, and Swiss watchmaker Favre Leuba are amongst the most notable international names in the Tata portfolio, which also includes the likes of over 100 other companies spanning food, pharmaceutical, and air travel industries. So the rebirth of American watchmaking rests on foreign technology? Yes. Sort of.

As a fully vertically integrated manufacturer with over 30 years developing its own watches (along with multiple lifestyle sub-brands in fragrance, apparel, and eyewear), Titan now makes its own movements, produces its own steel, has its own gold foundries, and owns scores of manufacturing and design patents — dozens of which belong to watch cases and movements, and are already being supplied for other brands around the watch world, including the Swiss. But even with that level of influence, outside of FTS, Titan currently has no retail or manufacturing presence in the U.S. for watches, so helping kickstart the infrastructure behind a movement manufacture in the United States feels like a win for both American industry and Titan’s own global watch-growth strategy. Make no mistake — though Titan is heavily involved in the backbone of the new Ameriquartz movements by providing engineering insight, physical tooling and manufacture, and the supply of some raw materials and hard parts, the most critical electronic parts of the movements, like the semiconductors, along with all assembly, QC, and after-sales support is being sourced from the U.S. and performed at the FTS facility under the watchful eye of Chief Technical Officer and head watchmaker Manuel Yazijian.

Can This Quartz Movement Save the American Watch Industry? Featured Articles

A new Ameriquartz moonphase movement

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  • Sean

    gah. I live two hours away from their new facility. I don’t know if I could stand the commute, or, conversely, living in Phoenix, but god this is so tempting…
    and terrifying. I’ve been working on a cover letter for three days now. I appreciate the write-up. gives me a bit more confidence in the situation.

    • SuperStrapper

      Ooo- featured!

  • Gokart Mozart

    Interesting but is this not the same as what America claims about Chinese companies.

    Is this not more an Indian company setting up a manufacturing facility in the US.? And then the American company will steal the skills and create new startups in the US

    Saying that if it helps to stop people from buying Apple and other smart wrist devices I should not complain even if is quartz.

  • DanW94

    Encouraging steps. First order of business, secure a contract with Shinola to supply movements and make an honest company out of them.

    • Totally agree that it’s absolutely what’s needed (a large watch brand to get on board), but it’s unlikely to come from Shinola, as they’ve got a similar technology alliance/partnership as we’ve now got with FTS and Titan.

  • commentator bob

    This is silly and embarrassing. An American company, Apple, sells more watches in revenue than the entire Swiss watch industry. A Swiss company, Swatch Group, makes entire automatic mechanical watches through automation in Switzerland and sells them for $150. Completely automated mechanical watch production in the US would be interesting. Smart watch production in the US through automation and the establishment of a domestic supply chain would be interesting. An Indian company making outdated quartz watches in the US using outdated production techniques is not something to get excited about.

    • MeaCulpa

      Building a smart watch in the US would at best be final assembly. Establishing a domestic supply chain for consumer electronics, especially niche electronics like smart watches, is just about as realistic as establishing a supply chain on the moon.

  • a single white female

    I’m all for this as long as they make some reasonably sized watches. I’m talking 35-38mm. Those 41mm Shinola watches look ridiculous. That size is ok for a diver, but not for a field or railway watch.

  • Since larger watches still dominate the market, there is no reason quartz movements could not have larger than 11.5 ligne (26 mm) diameters. This larger area could be put to use with more functionality while still retaining traditional quartz thinness. I hope FTS does more than just clone Ronda movements. Let’s see some solar power and even GPS in affordable movements for a change. Best of luck to them.

  • Patience grasshopper, gotta run before you can walk, Rome wasn’t built in a day, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, etc. etc. etc.

  • SuperStrapper

    RGM still exists, they’re just dead to this blog.

    • Playboy Johnny – Team Mariu$

      And that is a real shame.

      • SuperStrapper

        A shame I would agree, but I assign no blame.

  • PR

    Titan is the Seiko of India who never quite figured out the higher end market but completely obliterated the low-mid market in all age groups including mechanical watches like the historic HMT which was the market staple for a long time. The edge series just propelled them further giving them a price point and USP that worked without having to deal with mechanical movements.

    I respect Titan for the Edge and their sheer marketing and design strength catering to a very large market. I’m excited to see what this partnership brings about and will have a close eye on it. If it’s anything like Jaguars resurrection, I’m all in. Sign me up for their F type equivalent 😉

    • This is great insight – thanks for sharing.

  • What fresh hell is this?
  • Interesting business effort. I wish them well. But this article should have been titled “Can This Quartz Movement Help Resurrect the American Watch Industry?”

  • Polerouter

    Titan is a very capable brand but to be honest, although they are omnipresent in India, no one cares outside of India. Similarly, I don’t see anyone outside of the USA buying a watch because the movement was made in USA. And standard 3 hands quartz watches are probably promised to a brighter future in India than in America. So this brand could have a nice success in themselves (I wish them so) but I don’t see how it relates with the resurgence of the American watch as a whole.